The good citizens of Dewey Beach, Del., are in for a shock. Their mayor, the honorable Patricia Freedman Wright, a sensible looking 62-year-old Republican who spends her days worrying about potholes and noise levels, hasn’t always been as buttoned-down as the high office she holds might suggest.
Forty years ago the “vivacious” aide to then-Rep. John Dowdy (D-Texas) donned short shorts, heels and a cowboy hat and stretched herself out on a boat in the Potomac River for a turn as a pinup.
“Can you imagine a girl doing that today?” Wright laughed during a recent telephone interview.
Probably not. But from 1957 until 1974 when the feature breathed its last, hundreds of young female staffers willingly strutted their stuff as Roll Call “Hill Pinups.”
The sometimes-seductive photos (taken by the official Republican and Democratic photographers, no less) appeared along with a brief profile of the lucky woman. The subjects, who often had modeling or beauty pageant backgrounds, were selected based on looks and personality, and occasionally were suggested by the lawmakers themselves.
“People thought it was kind of an honor,” said 70-year-old Jean (MaGouirk) Winius, a secretary to then-Rep. Walter Rogers (D-Texas), who can still remember the three D’s — “dazzling, demure and delightful” — used to introduce one of her two pinup appearances in the late 1950s. “How can I say it nicely? I was quite popular.”
Call it sexist, misogynistic or downright retrograde, but there’s no denying the simple fact: Pretty girls sold newspapers.
“When I started the paper I had a lot of tongue-in-cheek ideas,” said Roll Call founder Sid Yudain, noting that he modeled the feature after pinups that appeared in Army papers during World War II. “We got some [complaint] letters every once and a while [but] the Congressmen never objected.”
For that matter, neither did many of the women who participated.
“At the time … it was not a big deal,” said Wright, who spent nearly two decades working for her family’s supermarket equipment design business before permanently settling in the popular resort town and winning election as town commissioner.
“I haven’t gone on to be a fan dancer or anything,” quipped Ginny Stanley Douglas, who said her pinup came about simply by being in the right place at the right time.
Douglas had just headed out from her sixth-floor Longworth Building office at the end of a summer day in 1968, when she ran headlong into “a woman reporter and a photographer” waiting for a no-show pinup, she recalled.
“She said, ‘I’m desperate, it has to be done today. And I said, ‘OK, fine.’”
So Douglas, then a 22-year-old aide to freshman Rep. George Bush (R-Texas), blithely climbed up onto the ledge of a nearby fountain for her rendezvous with destiny.
Douglas, now the California executive director of The WishList, a group that works to elect pro-abortion rights Republican women, never lost the political bug.
She quit Bush’s staff to marry in 1969, but still volunteered for her ex-boss’ subsequent campaigns and went on to serve appointments with two GOP Golden State governors.
And Bush 41 didn’t forget her, either. After he rose to the nation’s highest office, the then-president nominated her to the board of directors of the National Institute of Building Sciences.
Like Douglas and Mayor Wright, many of the ex-pinups remained active in politics.
Roll Call’s first pinup, “farm girl” Marlene (Hopkins) Frich, whose photo appeared under the retrospectively peculiar title “Marlene Hopkins Anything But ‘Beautiful and Dumb,’” may have married and settled down into a life as a mother of three, but she never lost her appetite for all things GOP.
“I’ve worked in every election” since Dwight Eisenhower, said Frich, a member of the Monongalia Republican executive committee in West Virginia. Twice in the 1990s, she even tried her hand at a race of her own, but lost both bids for the West Virginia House, where her daughter Cindy now serves. And this month she was an alternate delegate to the Republican National Convention in New York City. “I was the forerunner to the modern-day woman,” she said.
After leaving the Hill in 1977, 1968 pinup Diane Kirchenbauer also threw herself into state and local politics. A former lobbyist for the National Organization for Women, Kirchenbauer won election in 1982 to the Maryland House of Delegates, where she served until 1986. Kirchenbauer, 60, retired from elective politics after a narrow loss in her bid for state Senate that year, and now owns a horse farm and tack shop with her husband in Carroll County.
Her colleagues “would have been very amused,” the ex-state legislator said of her pinup past, emphasizing that she only agreed to participate because (at least in her case) it was “just a head shot and a simple write-up.”
Meanwhile, Kitty Moon Emery, a press secretary to then-Sen. Bill Brock (R-Tenn.) who posed as a fashion pinup for Roll Call in November 1972, may have fled Washington during the height of the Watergate scandal to take a job with a Nashville public television station, but she couldn’t escape politics for long, either.
By 1975, she had joined the production company Scene Three Inc., whose founder and CEO Marc Ball had just been tapped to serve as national advertising director for Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential bid. Emery moved to New York to serve as Ball’s deputy during the primary campaign, before returning to Nashville to “build up” the fledgling production company.
As president of the multimillion-dollar Scene Three, Emery shepherded the company’s growth into a respected force in the world of music videos and TV specials (its high-profile clients have included Garth Brooks and Kenny Rogers), as well as in the political realm. It has done work for Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) and Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), among others, and currently counts Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) and Georgia Republican Congressional candidate Calder Clay among its clients.
Other pinups, such as former beauty queen Layte Bowden Dopp, a one-time receptionist and secretary to then-Sen. George Smathers (D-Fla.) who graced Roll Call’s pages in 1960 as part of a double header baseball-themed shot, went on to join the jet set — literally.
After leaving the Hill in 1962, Dopp, whom Life Magazine once featured in an article about “pretty girls” in Washington, joined the ranks of the Pucci-clad Pan Am stewardesses. “We were treated like movie stars on Pan Am,” she said. In her role at the airline, she also flew on White House press charters as chief purser, accompanying Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon on official trips.
She was with JFK in Berlin when he gave his famous “Ich bein ein Berliner” speech and in Dallas the day he was shot. “I was on Air Force One when the word came in” that he had died, she said. “I fainted in the aisle and somebody got brandy and poured it down me.”
Before she traded in her swinging-single gal status to marry Butler Aviation CEO Paul Dopp in 1971, the Floridian said she also dated a dizzying array of Congressmen, movie stars, and other high-ranking officials, including then-Rep. John Brademas (D-Ind.), Warren Beatty and Kennedy brother-in-law and Rat Packer Peter Lawford. She had a small role in the Lawford-produced film “Billie,” starring Patty Duke. In the mid-1960s, Dopp and CBS News Anchor Dan Rather began collaboration on a book based on their experiences traveling with presidents but never completed it because she “was so busy having a good time.”
The 67-year-old Dopp, who pointed out that she is in the process of divorcing the former CEO, today works as an artist, painting and sculpting mostly “dog art or hearts” for Miami boutiques. “I’ve just moved, and I’ve lost weight,” she added, noting that she now weighs less than the mere 119 pounds noted in her pinup profile. “I look good.”
At least one former Hill pinup was destined for the quotation books, but for less than desirable reasons.
In August 1972, Roll Call featured a buxom blonde with unabashed showbiz ambitions, then serving on the staff of Rep. Ken Gray (D-Ill.). Her name: Elizabeth Ray.
Ray earned a place in the pantheon of Congressional sex scandals four years later after her memorable admission, “I can’t type, I can’t file, I can’t even answer the phone” appeared in a Washington Post story about her longstanding affair with her employer, then-Rep. Wayne Hays (D-Ohio).
After writing a book on Washington sexcapades, appearing in Playboy and trying her hand at acting, Ray dropped out of the limelight but resurfaced in the late 1990s when she attempted to launch a career as a stand-up comic. Ray, who was last reported to be living in New York City, declined through a friend to be interviewed.
Despite the frequently sexist tone of the text accompanying the Hill pinups (which sometimes included the female staffer’s weight and measurements), on at least two occasions over the years Roll Call did concede to spotlighting male pinups.
The “scrumptious” John Yarmuth’s selection as the April Fool’s Day 1971 pinup was mostly a joke, he said, though he acknowledged that there was a growing sentiment on the Hill at the time that “if we are doing women we ought to do a man.”
“I got a good-natured ribbing from people I knew, that’s for sure,” he said.
Yarmuth, a legislative assistant to then-Sen. Marlow Cook (R-Ky.) — who was hired to fill the opening created by now-Sen. Mitch McConnell’s (R-Ky.) exit from Cook’s staff in 1971 — returned to Kentucky after Cook’s 1974 defeat and launched a career in journalism. The 56-year-old Yarmuth, founder and executive editor of LEO, a free weekly alternative newspaper in Louisville, is active in Democratic, progressive politics and has raised thousands of dollars for Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry’s presidential campaign. He also appears as the “liberal” voice on a “local ‘Crossfire’-type show” and recently launched a progressive think tank, Center for Kentucky Progress, modeled after John Podesta’s Center for American Progress and co-chaired by none other than his former boss, Sen. Cook.
“I thought it was funny,” Yarmuth said of being a pinup. “I’m a big ham.”
Not every former Hill pinup remembered it so fondly, however.
Nearly half a century after one former staffer appeared in Roll Call, the woman, who said she did not “want any publicity about it,” was still fuming about the “cheesecake” nature of her seductive bathing suit pose, which ran in October 1957.
The self-described “conservative” said she thought a boyfriend at the time had submitted her photograph as a joke without her knowledge and remembers being “alarmed and aghast” when she saw it in the paper.
“It’s inappropriate for Roll Call,” said the woman, who declined to comment on any aspect of her life after the Hill, and shortly into the conversation abruptly ended the telephone interview. “It’s in bad taste.”
By the time the pinup feature was finally pulled in 1974, this woman’s sentiments were clearly in the ascendancy. “I think the photographers got skittish about taking it,” said Yudain. “It went out of style.”
The item was replaced the following year by the more equal-opportunity “Hill Personalities,” which showcased both male and female staffers and was likely a “bow to the feminists,” Yudain conceded.
For their part, the ex-pinups remain divided over the wisdom of Roll Call’s decision to run a feature with such decidedly sexist and sexual overtones in the first place.
“I can’t conceive of it being acceptable today,” said Kirchenbauer. “I’m glad it’s changed. I think it’s a big step forward.”
But Mayor Wright said she would “do it again” in a heartbeat.
“I’m a lot older now and that picture is looking darn good,” Her Honor chuckled.